Archives: October 2007
Chains in Hawaii, Part 2: McDonald's McRib
I'm not a big McDonald's consumer, but I've been a devout McDonald's observer ever since my days in the 1980s as a McDonald's assistant manager. One of the nice things about the McDonald's you run across on roadtrips and vacations is the regional offerings that are available. In the Honolulu area, they're now featuring the McRib sandwich, a boneless mini-slab of processed pork with barbecue sauce on a bun.
Is it real barbecue? No, but it's not really claiming to be, so cut them a little slack. Was it good? Not really, but it was well worth a 2-bite trip to Nostalgiaville (it debuted in 1981). I thought the pickles and onions on the sandwich were a nice touch though, contrasting the sauce to create sort of a (very) poor man's version of some of the sandwiches at Daisy May's in New York City.
There's also some local flair at the Honolulu-area McDonald's. At breakfast, you can get eggs with SPAM (huge in Hawaii), and all platters are served with fresh pineapple. All day long, you can get haupia pie instead of apple. Haupia is a Hawaiian dessert made with coconut. In its traditional form, it's like a coconut jello, but I've also seen versons that were closer to custard. The McDonald's haupia pie was closer to the latter, and a definite hit. The other interesting thing was that the pie shell was a throwback to the crispy, deep-fried variety, rather than the baked Fig Newtonesque shell that's standard back in the continental US.
Red Sox are World Champions
No barbecue update today. I'm still catching up on sleep, thanks to the Red Sox and the red eye flight back from Hawaii. But how about them Sox? It looks like they're positioned to compete for, if not win, many titles over the next several years.
Maybe Roger Clemens should re-shoot that commercial, where instead of telling his wife that he's returning to baseball unless she says otherwise, he tells her that he's choosing the Yankees over the Red Sox unless she says otherwise, while she disagrees in a silent fury.
Chains in Hawaii, Part 1: Tony Roma's
Yet another confession: back in the 1980s, before I knew better, I loved Tony Roma's, the chain restaurant that bills itself as "A Place For Ribs." The outpost closest to where I lived was co-owned by former Celtics great KC Jones and former Bruins greater-than-great Bobby Orr, so my monthly visits there were not only a chance to eat ribs and onion rings, but also a chance to view some really cool sports memorabilia. Before too long, the place closed, as did most Tony Roma's branches in the area. The closest surviving Tony Roma's is in Maryland, far outside the New England and New York region.
There are a few Tony Roma's restaurants on Oahu, and if you pay attention to the coupon books available everywhere, you can get a free dessert or a half-price second entree with the purchase of an entree. I didn't fall for this, for my motto of "So many restaurants, so little time" was in full force during this vacation. Instead of using up a valued meal on this indulgence of nostalgia, I visited a food court version of Tony Roma's (in the Ala Moana Center, Hawaii's largest mall) during a shopping break. This allowed me to minimize the damage both in dollars and minutes. It also allowed me to just take a bite or two of each item and throw the rest out without any explanation.
I ordered the babybacks, since that's what I figured they do best, choosing cole slaw, fries and beans as my three allotted sides. Although I wasn't expecting much, the ribs fell short of expectation, with no smokiness and no real flavor other than the sauce. I have to admit that the pump-them-yourself sauces (regular, spicy, honey) were decent renditions of the typical tomato-based barbecue sauce. I also have to admit that the sides, though barely average, exceeded expectation. The beans had some meat and a lot of flavor under all that ketchupy sauce. The cole slaw wasn't bad. The fries, with skins on, were pretty good. I wish I could say the same about the ribs. It was 20 years since my last visit and it will probably be 20 years 'til my next.
Back from 2 Weeks in Hawaii
I have a confession: I said that following the Red Sox kept me from having barbecue last weekend (which was true), but the fact that I was in Honolulu at the time was also in play. I wanted to see if I could keep the site going without interruption while I was away. Although I relied on some posts written weeks in advance, I also had a little time to do some writing, thanks to the plane rides and the 6-hour time difference.
Another confession: although I had my share of barbecue in many forms while on Oahu, I had more fish, because that's what they do best. I'll have more details later, making sure to keep what's relevant to barbecue on this main page and assigning the remainder to a separate page for those who are interested. I've been to Oahu 5 times in the last 7 years, so if you're planning an upcoming vacation, email me for more recommendations (hotels, beaches, plate lunch joints, fine dining restaurants, reference sites) than I'll post here.
The 2008 Pig A Day BBQ Calendar
I know it's not even Halloween yet, but it's never too early to start thinking about Christmas presents for your favorite barbecue fan. One item that caught my attention recently is Sunnyside Publishing's 2008 Pig-A-Day calendar, featuring the "icons of barbecue." Each page features a pig logo for a barbecue restaurant, competition team or organization. The calendar is filled with amusing anecdotes about the various people who make barbecue special. It's interesting to compare the different names, images and art styles people come up with for their identity.
I was particularly impressed by the strong representation from the Northeast. The calendar leads off with Smokin' Al's (Bay Shore NY) for January 1 and ends with Bub's Bar-B-Q (Sunderland MA) for December 31. In between are Well Dressed Hog (Dover NH, 2/5), Finkerman's Riverside Bar-B-Q (Montpelier VT, 2/20), Holy Smokes (West Hatfield MA, 3/21), Bar BQ (Brooklyn NY, 4/15), PJ's Barbecue (Saratoga NY, 4/19), Down 'n Dirty Bar-B-Q (Manchester NH, 7/8), Willie B's BBQ (Bay Shore NY, 7/16), Smoke 'n Bones (Oak Bluffs MA, 7/19), Denny Mike's (Old Orchard Beach ME, 8/14), Big Ed's BBQ (Old Bridge NJ, 10/1) and Joey's BBQ (Hoboken NJ, 11/10).
New England competition teams within the calendar are the Anchormen, Bad Bones BBQ Crew, Dr. Frank 'n' Swine, I Like Smoke 'n' Lightening, I Que, I Smell Smoke, Those Meddling Kids, Transformer BBQ and Two Fat Polocks.
Publisher Dick Anderson said he's "pleased with the nice geographic diversity to the calendar. New York and California, for instance, have more pigs (11 each) than South Carolina (10). Go figure. Tennessee leads the herd, with 27 pigs, while my native North Carolina has 25."
There's one artist who stands out in this calendar, contributing nearly 100 of its images: Patrick Carlson of BBQLogos.com. The Valdosta GA artist, who's created 500 barbecue-related logos to date, also designed the "Baby Got Rack" logo that's used on the cover of the calendar.
The Pig A Day calendar is available at selected barbecue restaurants, bookstores and via their website.
Although inclusion requires a pig logo this year, the 2009 calendar is accepting some logos with other "mascot" characters, so if you have a team or business with an interesting image and an interesting story, now is the time to submit your info.
Massachusetts BBQ: BT's Review
Today I posted my review of BT's Smokehouse (Brimfield MA), the roadside shack that's been open since Memorial Day and will operate through the winter with the help of a heated trailer for your dining pleasure. See the site's 124th review via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Chili List: My 12 Favorite Bowls of Chili
Since October is National Chili Month and we're past the halfway point for the month, I'd say it's time for a list of my favorite bowls of chili at New York and New England barbecue joints. As with all of my lists, note that I say "favorite", not "best," because I haven't tried them all and because your mileage may vary. One other thing: slots #1 and #2 are rock solid, but rankings #3 through #12 are prone to flip-flopping, depending on my mood or my most recent experience.
#1 All Star Sandwich Bar, Cambridge MA
This isn't a full-fledged barbecue joint, but on a part time basis they offer pulled pork and brisket sandwiches made with the meats smoked a few doors down at East Coast Grill. This "no beans, no cryin'" chili, available full-time and containing the brisket from these same pits, is the best combination of meat, heat and spice I've ever tasted. You might say "heat and spice" is redundant, but it's not. There's plenty of heat from the chiles and there's plenty of savory flavors going on thanks to the liberal use of cumin and other ingredients that hit you from a different angle entirely. The cornbread that accompanies it is pretty good too.
#2 Big W's, Wingdale NY
There are two chilis available here, and both are excellent. Whether you choose beef or chicken, you'll get a tremendous amount of meat and a mildly spiced broth that enhances the meat without overshadowing it. The nice thing about the brisket chili is that the fat has already been trimmed from the slices. The nice thing about the chicken chili is that it's healthy enough—and good enough—to eat every day. The nice thing about both chilis is you can include as a side on your combo platter.
#3 Jake's Dixie Roadhouse, Waltham MA
This is one of the few chilis out there that's pure, unadulterated pork, with a very spicy broth.
#4 Hill Country BBQ, New York City
The other flavors kick in too, but what you notice most about this chili is that it's made with beer, and lots of it. There are no beans and though there's an adequate portion of beef, there's plenty of that beer and chile pepper-studded broth. If they used larger chunks of the same brisket available in the meat line, I'd rank this a slot or two higher.
#5 Daisy May's, New York City
This chili is widely regarded as the best in the city, and not just among barbecue joints. It's pure beef, served in big, tender chunks, with just enough broth to serve as a lubricant. The spice level is fairly mild, but the flavor is very pleasant.
#6 RUB BBQ, New York City
This is my highest-ranking chili that has beans, and it's because they blend nicely with the more abundant similar-sized chunks of very smoky brisket. The heat level is medium.
#7 Waterfront Ale House, New York City
Here's another joint that's not quite a barbecue joint, but still has barbecue on the menu. It's also a joint that has two varieties of chili. I haven't tried the venison and black bean version, but I'm looking forward to it. The beef and pork version, with medium-high heat, is a basic straightforward chili, but one of the best basic straightforward chilis out there.
#8 Little Danny's Taste of Texas, South Windsor CT
This bowl of chili is also basic and straightforward, but it's made with buffalo meat. Different texture, different flavor, and it's good. If buffalo isn't your thing, they have beef chili too.
#9 Buck's Naked, Freeport ME
It seems as though they take an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach here, because this chili has beef, pork, chicken and a couple of different beans. I've only had it once, so I wonder if it changes from day to day.
#10 Chili Head BBQ, W. Bridgewater MA
For a Texas style barbecue joint, the beans in the chili are a little out of place, but rather than being unwelcome intruders for texture only, they actually supply much of the flavor. The meat is a combination of ground beef and large brisket cubes. But the really unique thing about this chili is that you can customize the heat level when you order it, on a scale of 1 to 15. Anything over a 10 requires a signed waiver. You can also use El Yucateo hot sauce at the table to add even more heat if necessary.
#11 Redbones, Somerville MA
There are so many appetizers on the Redbones menu, it's easy to forget about the chili, but theirs is pretty memorable. It's made with large cubes of beef and the broth is very thin, like beef stock. A little unorthodox, but it gets the job done.
#12 Firefly's, 3 MA locations
The chili here—a mix of brisket, sirloin and pork—is like a microcosm of the restaurant as a whole. Sometimes there's beans, sometimes there's not. Sometimes it's thick, sometimes it's thin. Sometimes it's mostly beef, sometimes it's mostly pork. More often than not, it's good, and when it's on, it's very good.
Hell Nights at ECG, October 29-31
It's that time of season: heat lovers love chili, but heat freaks love the chile-infused dishes that will give your taste buds a spanking at East Coast Grill in Cambridge. Try the infamous Pasta from Hell and other spicy specialties, or stick to the wimp menu. The Hell Night triple-header kicks off Monday, October 29. Reservations are required and wimps are welcome (but will be ridiculed).
Loud, Louder, Loudest
There comes a time when you realize you're getting old, and for me that time is now. Packs of high scool girls, dressed scantily for their weekly Friday night mall appearance, no longer make me turn my head. Some of their tattoos and piercings, and the places they put them on, actually make me shake my head. Much like the generation before me, I can't understand the appeal of some of the music they listen to, but I can at least understand that it was bound to happen. What I really can't understand is how, when or why loud became equated with cool. Have you been in an Abercrombie and Fitch lately? It's not a store, it's a loud disco that just happens to sell clothing (and obnoxious cologne). And the kids love it. And they love it so much they'll go there and call their friends on their cellphones, making sure they're in the loudest part of the store (disco) before placing the call. I wouldn't be able to hear anyone on the other end if I tried that, but hey, different strokes for different folks.
I say different strokes, but the fact that this whole "loud is cool" phenomenon is affecting restaurants is really annoying me. Walk down any "restaurant row" (Moody Street in Waltham MA, Hanover Street in Boston's North End, dozens of equivalents in NYC) and you'll notice that there'll be a few restaurants that seem to be where the party is. The music is loud, the conversation is louder to overcome the music, and everything is magnified by the acoustics specifically designed to enhance the "loud is cool" mystique. It draws people in like the Pied Piper, as if they're going to miss something by going to the quiet little restaurant a few doors down that actually serves good food.
These "loud is cool" establishments are the food version of Lindsey Lohan: unable to catch your attention through culinary talent, they'll make you notice them through cheaper, lazier means. Sadly, this strategy seems to be working. I hate these places and I hate Lindsey Lohan.
Can you tell I didn't have barbecue this weekend?
Another Word Series for the Red Sox
I was too busy rooting on my Red Sox to worry about barbecue this weekend. Some random thoughts:
- Though there was never any doubt they'd come back from the 3-1 deficit, yesterday's win was the closest 11-2 decision I've ever seen, a real nail biter until Dustin Pedroia's home run in the seventh.
- I wonder how many people expected JD Drew to hit that grand slam in the first inning of game 6. If you say you did, I'd like you to submit to a lie detector test.
- There was talk about bringing Josh Beckett in to pitch game 7 on 2 days' rest, and that would have been really stupid. Not only would he not be himself for that game, but it would hamper him in the Series.
- I don't like Julio Lugo, who's been disappointing in the field and with the bat and could have easily been the goat had the Sox lost yesterday. Like Edgar Renteria two shortstops before him, he's not worth the contract even if he had played up to expectation.
- The Red Sox should have given Curt Schilling the 1-year, $13 million extension he asked for back in April.
- Speaking of extensions for aging pitchers, I said after the 2004 Series that the Red Sox should have offered Pedro Martinez a 2-year, $36 million contract. The team would have gotten the number of years it wanted, and the premium for avoiding those extra risk-filled years would have been worth it. Pedro would have been able to say he was the highest paid pitcher (per year) in baseball. It would have been a win-win.
- Attention Steinbrenner and company: you should have either kept Torre by offering a realistic contract extension or simply fired him. Low-balling the man who's brought nothing but class to your organization is classless. It's something you'd expect from Dan Duquette.
- Even though this season's not over yet (except for the Yankees) and there's much baseball to be savored, I'm looking forward to next year. Pedroia a year older. Drew a year after getting acclimated to the American League. Ramirez playing for a contract. Schilling (maybe) playing for his last contract. Lester at full strength from the beginning. A full season of Clay Buchholtz and a full season of Jacoby Ellsbury. Ortiz's Minnesota connection possibly beong the intangible that lands us Johan Santana. It's going to be fun. But so is the Series.
Wanna Roast Your Own Pig in 4 Hours?
Wednesday's Boston Globe food section had a feature on the increasingly popular La Caja China pig roasting box. I found it extra cool because the family who roasted the pig owns and runs my favorite cheese shop, Wasik's in Wellesley MA. And they found out about La Caja China through Chris Schesinger of East Coast Grill. Last winter, my wife and I tasted the results at one of East Coast Grill's pig roast dinners.
Globe article on the Wasiks and La Caja China
Pigtrip post on the East Coast Grill Pig Roast
Wasik's Cheese Shop
East Coast Grill
La Caja China
Boston BBQ: Jake's Chili Challenge, Oct 22
October is National Chili Month, and Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA) is holding their annual Chili Challenge and Heatfest on Monday, October 22, from 7PM to 9PM. For $12.95, you can sample chili from nine competitors and vote for the winner. Competitors from the barbecue world include Blue Ribbon, Andy Husbands (of IQue and Tremont 647), Uncle Jed's BBQ team, Haggerty's Hell Raisers BBQ team and Jake's Dixie Roadhouse. Reservations (and Rolaids) are required, so call the restaurant at (781) 894-4BBQ to get your seat.
Connecticut BBQ: Smokin' With Chris Review
Today I finally posted my review of Smokin' With Chris (Southington CT), one of four rib and/or BBQ joints in the town. See the site's 123rd review via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Scary Halloween Grill
Other than the painstaking attention to candy selection detail, I'm not the type to "get into" Halloween. You know, the kind who'll wear a Frankenstein costume, like Frank Barone, just to hand out candy to the kids. No, I'm not one of those guys, but if I were, I'd get my grill on with the Body Parts On the Barbie grill. I found it in a mail order catalog (from a company called Things You Never Knew Existed) that was in a pile of junk mail last week. For a mere $49.98, you get a rusted aged grill, simulated charcoal that makes simulated crackling noises and simulated flames, and two simulated body parts. Which is the dark meat, the hand or the foot?
NYC BBQ: RUB and Hill Country (again)
My wife and I were in New York this weekend, and Gotham's most invincible tandem since Mantle and Maris came through once again. At RUB, we nibbled on burnt ends, turkey, ham and babyback ribs. It was the first time I tried the babybacks there, and I found the flavor to be very porky, with the spice and smoke complementing but not overpowering the natural flavor of the meat. I still prefer their spares, but these were good. Burnt ends rocked as usual.
At Hill Country, we stuck mostly to greens (avocado, salad, cucumber salad), but I managed to squeeze in a few slices of brisket. After three side-by-side comparisons, I still prefer the lean to the moist.
For barbecued brisket, I just can't imagine it getting any better than RUB's burnt ends (from the point) or Hill Country's sliced lean (from the flat).
Yesterday while researching Big Bully's, I stumbed upon a site for a mortgage company that had a June newsletter on barbecue [edited a few days after this post]. Scroll down a little and you'll see a directory of Massachusetts barbecue joints. Look familiar? It would have been nice had they provided a link or given credit. But no, they just copied and pasted from my site, keeping the same groupings with slightly modified headings. Sure, names and locations of restaurants are a matter of public record, but still, it bothers me. I've copied and pasted addresses too, to save typing time, but I don't lift and drop large chunks of data like that.
Update #1: Within 3 days of my post, they sent a letter of apology, then stripped all content on that page, replacing it with a link to this site. They didn't have to remove any of the content, especially the interesting barbecue lore. It's as if they're saying, "You want a link, here's a link, but we'll be damned if we'll leave any content worth searching on that'll lead anyone to it."
Update #2: Not sure exactly when, but within 2 weeks of my post, they deleted the page entirely. I can live without the link or the credit, but man, do I feel sorry for anyone who got a mortgage through them.
I've had my photos swiped several times, even by restaurants listed on this site. I've also had restaurants ask me if they can use my photos, and I usually say yes. More often, I see my photos being used on bulletin boards, sometimes boards that have nothing to do with barbecue. Instead of saying "Here's a cool barbecue photo," why can't they say "Here's a cool barbecue photo, and if you like this, you can find more at www.pigtrip.net"?
Anything you see on this site is mine: my photos, my ideas, unless I say otherwise. I don't steal photos (although I've used one of Jason Perlow's with permission) and I don't re-publish recipes. If I see something on another site that I think is worth your while, I'll give credit to whoever created it and link to it, so you can see the original version.
OK, I'm off the soapbox now.
Massachusetts BBQ: Big Bully's Burgers Closes in Beverly, Opens in N. Attleboro?
Granted, this wasn't the classic barbecue joint, but Big Bully's BBQ Burgers did offer ribs, brisket and pulled pork in addition to their namesake ground beef. I learned a few days ago that the outpost in Beverly had closed, which was odd considering that they had recently announced expansion into North Attleboro. After conducting some phone and web research (the Phantom Gourmet site was helpful), I'm pretty sure the Attleboro store opened last Monday. It's at 11 Robert Toner Blvd, just off I-95's exit 5.
Whether the new Big Bully's offers barbecue fare and whether there's any connection to the original owner is still unknown. According to a report in the Salem News, "Former owner Larry Scaglione says he is getting out of the restaurant business after a recent trip to the doctor determined working long hours surrounded by burgers, fries and ice cream wasn't helping him manage his diabetes."
The Big Bully's website has only a front page announcing the "upcoming" North Attleboro location and no menu or other details. If you view the source code, the meta description reads "bankrupt, bankrupt, bankrupt, bankrupt... ."
Boston BBQ: Big Lou Rib House Reviewed
Today I posted my review of Big Lou Rib House (Revere MA), the rib joint on the same street as Uncle Pete's. I admit it, my 122nd review was a fairly easy one to write. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
NYC BBQ: Big Lou (the Big Lou) Moves On
I pointed out after last week's visit to Big Lou Rib House that the joint in Revere MA bears no connection to Big Lou Elrose, the ex-cop and current NYC pitman who's served as lieutenant to Adam Perry Lang at Daisy May's and Robbie Richter at Hill Country. Between these gigs, he had his own joint in Queens, and as Grub Street announced last Friday, the real Big Lou is leaving Hill Country to once again be the master of his own pit at Wildwood, the B. R. Guest foray into barbecue that's slated to open in New York City in December.
Robbie Richter, Big Lou Elrose
The Grub Street article
BR Guest site
Second Visits to City Flame and BT's
This weekend yielded second visits to two of New England's newer, off-the-beaten-path barbecue joints. On Saturday, my wife and I hit City Flame Smokehouse (Manchester NH) and on Sunday, a friend and I drove to BT's Smokehouse (Brimfield MA), the roadside joint in a trailer park just a few miles west of where I-84 meets I-90.
Manchester BBQ: City Flame Smokehouse
At City Flame, we tried their chili and smoked turkey for the first time, and I got my second take on the ribs, brisket, sausage and pork (no, we didn't eat it all in one sitting). On the first visit, the pulled pork was the star of the show. On this visit, the ribs were the standout, with a well-defined rub that supplied some heat and texture to counter the lightly-applied sweet mop. You know those radio commercials that use overlapping music to explain how the qualities of gas heat work perfectly together? That's what this rub and this mop made me think of.
The other interesting thing at City Flame was one of the customers who walked in not too long after we sat down. He noticed my T-shirt from Uncle Willie's (Waterbury and New Haven) and asked where they were located, since he was a trucker who's always on the lookout for new barbecue joints. That's when I noticed he was wearing a cap from Buck's Naked (Freeport ME). I know from the many emails that have poured in that there are kindred spirits all over the Northeast in search of the ultimate 'cue, but chewing the fat (literally) with another diehard really drove the point home.
Central Massachusetts BBQ: BT's Smokehouse
At BT's, we sampled pulled pork, ribs and brisket. The standout this time was again the brisket. It's moist and it's assertively spiced. The bark was again a little on the dark side—as is the case with most of the meats here—but the tradeoff is more spice per bite than with most briskets I've tried. The cole slaw was again impressive, with a little heat to make things interesting.
Chef Brian Treitman told me that this week, he'll be serving deep fried chicken wings and chili in addition to the core menu of ribs, chicken, pork and brisket.
Reviews on the Way
I'm finally getting caught up, so starting tomorrow, I'll be posting a one review a week for the next few weeks.
Rule #1: Say When You're Open
I have the day off from work today, so I was toying with the idea of a small-scale pigtrip later to parts unknown (not likely, but it's fun to toy). Just as Sy Sperling is not only the president of Hair Club for Men but also a client, I not only maintain the Pigtrip Joints directory, I'm a client as well. As I was using it to view about a dozen candidate joints' websites, I was amazed at how many restaurants don't bother to list one of the most important pieces of information they can provide: when they''re open.
Attention restaurant owners: I like your cool Flash videos, I like your explanation of what a smoke ring is and why I should choose your joint over the next guy's (I really do). But aside from the menu, what I really want to know is what days you're open and what hours. A lot of people travel on Sundays and on half-assed holidays like today and would be more than eager to give you a try if they know you're open.
Here at Pigtrip, it's not important whether we celebrate on October 12 (the date in 1492 when land in North America was discovered) or on the previous Monday. It's also not important whether you call him Christopher Columbus, Cristoforo Colombo or Cristóbal Colón. What is important is that Columbus brought the first pigs to North America, and for that we should be thankful.
W. Massachusetts BBQ: Pig Roast at Route 7
Route 7 Grill (Great Barrington MA) will be holding its last pig roast of the season on Friday, October 12. The dinner will be served from 5PM to 8PM and include a plate piled high with pork, three sides, cornbread and dessert. This event is $25 by reservation or $30 at the door. Spit roasted lamb will also be available.
New Jersey BBQ: The Wood Pit to Open Today
A new BBQ joint is set to open today in Montclair NJ: The Wood Pit, located on 108-110 Bloomfield Avenue. They'll be offering online ordering with payment by PayPal.
Holy Smokes Going Mobile Starting Feb '08
The owners of Holy Smokes BBQ & Whole Hog House (West Hatfield MA), whose restaurant was destroyed by a fire on June 21, announced earlier this week plans to resume their barbecue operation starting in February 2008.
After looking at many buildings (mostly churches) in the area but not finding any that “felt right,” owners Lou and Leslie Ekus decided to instead design a mobile kitchen on a trailer with a porch to hold the smoker. We will be “able to bring our food to whatever opportunity arises,” said Leslie Ekus via email. “We will be able to do fairs, special events, business grand openings, weddings, graduations, family gathers and bring the whole hog to the party, as well as our other smoked meats.”
The new smoker, a Southern Pride, is on order. The Southern Pride formerly at the restaurant was heavily damaged from the fire. The trailer is expected to arrive in January 2008 and the catering operation will begin in February. Holy Smokes is accepting catering orders now on their website.
The trailer is not just a stopgap solution, notes Ms. Ekus. “This is what we want to do now. A restaurant is not totally out of our future, but not our focus right now.”
There is the possibility of a central pick-up location for take-out orders, but not at this time. “We are working out the logistics of finding a place where we can possibly work out of once a month,” said Ms. Ekus. “You may see us doing guest appearances at certain local restaurants.”
Fans of the restaurant are excited by the news of the rebuilding effort, and the Holy Smokes owners are equally enthusiastic. “We are excited about having a plan to bring our food back to the people. It has been amazing the response from folks when we are out and about. We are always asked what we plan on doing and told how much they miss our restaurant, staff and food. We have had an opportunity that most restaurateurs never experience: we have learned how much our restaurant has meant to the valley and how we have touched people through our food and their experiences at our restaurant. And we thought we just had good BBQ and a beautiful building.”
W. Massachusetts BBQ: Route 7 Grill in Gourmet
The October 2007 Gourmet magazine on the stands now is their annual restaurant issue. After years of simply listing the best restaurants in America or the half dozen best restaurants for a dozen selected US cities, Gourmet recently began exploring theme issues to mix things up. This year, they've listed the 100 best Farm-to-Table restaurants in America. Route 7 Grill (Great Barrington MA) made the "Meat Rules" division.
Things I'd Like To See, Part 1
I'm always thinking of barbecue ideas, so here's what I'm thinking there oughtta be:
BBQ at Gas Stations?
It sounds odd, but it makes sense. It’s expensive opening a restaurant nowadays, so unless you have a sugar daddy, making the leap from barbecue competitor to barbecue restaurateur isn’t as easy as you’d want it to be. In 1930, Harlan Sanders (before he was known as the Colonel) got his Kentucky Fried Chicken empire off the ground by selling his soon-to-be-legendary poultry at his gas station. Maybe that’s the route some future legend in the barbecue world will get started. “Twenty dollars of high test and two racks of ribs, please.”
I can still remember those commercials of my youth, where (even before Florence Henderson), they’d take an unsliced loaf of bread, square it off to remove the crust, then deep fry it in Wesson oil. It always looked great. I bet some enterprising restaurant owner could showcase this as an “amuse” before the meal, as an appetizer (maybe a spicy dipping sauce) or as a housing for an even fattier rendition of a chopped brisket sandwich.
Two Kinds of Pulled Pork
Why not? If KFC offers regular and extra crispy chicken, why can’t a barbecue restaurant offer both a traditional pork shoulder as well as a Jamaican jerk-rubbed one? Or an out-there coriander-caraway-rubbed one? Or Sichuan peppercorn and basil? The oddball offshoots don’t have to be available regularly, but could rotate as second choice specials.
You can get Sunday brunch at joints like Duke’s (NYC) and LJ’s BBQ (Pawtucket RI), and Redbones (Somerville MA) is probably the best of the bunch, but this is a largely untapped market. Sausages are easy to smoke, and briskets coming right out of the smoker after an all-night smoke would go perfectly with eggs. I’ve seen some creative things done with potatoes and sweet potatoes at grilling contests, many of which would be ideal as a breakfast side.
At some Starbucks locations, I’ve seen Ghostbusters-like backpack contraptions that mobile baristas wear to dispense hot coffee outdoors. Why not chili?
A Flay-McDavid Reunion
If Eddie Van Halen can come to his senses and tour with David Lee Roth again, it’s high time Bobby Flay came to his senses and reunite with his Grillin' and Chillin' television partner, Jack McDavid. Flay has since done other Food Network shows with other co-hosts and solo, but the best television he ever did was with McDavid, the yin to Flay’s yang. City slicker Flay liked gas, high heat and cutting edge vinaigrettes, while bumpkin McDavid was strictly old school. We need more Jack McDavid nowadays.
Boston BBQ: The Big Lou Rib House in Revere
Ever since Uncle Pete's moved from East Boston to Revere 2 years ago, on every visit I've said the same thing to myself a few hundred feet before I enter the parking lot: "I wonder what this joint with the pig on the roof called The Big Lou is all about. It doesn't look promising, but someday I'll have to try it."
Well, that thought became reality on last Saturday's Uncle Pete's visit. At the Big Lou, a friend and I sampled an order of wings and the rib sampler (babybacks, St Louis ribs and country style ribs).
I wouldn't call this a barbecue joint, because other than the ribs (actually, including the ribs, I'm afraid), there really isn't any barbecue here. It's first and foremost a sports bar with pub food. Would I go back? Find out in my upcoming review.
I should also point out, just on the off-chance that there might be someone who'd think otherwise, that this joint has absolutely no connection to Big Lou Elrose, who has produced some of the finest barbecue to be had in the New York City area at Daisy May's, Big Lou's and now Hill Country.
I have several other reviews in various stages of completion. Besides Big Lou, the ones you'll probably see next:
Smokin' With Chris (Southington CT)
BT's Smokehouse (Brimfield MA)
City Flame Smokehouse (Manchester NH)
Smoken Joe's (Brighton MA)
Boston BBQ: Burnt Ends at Uncle Pete's Revere
On Saturday I met a friend at Uncle Pete's Hickory Ribs (Revere MA) to try their new burnt ends. Taken from the deckle, the fattiest part of the brisket, these beef slices are smoked for 18 to 22 hours. The legthy time in the smoker accomplishes several things, all of them good: (1) it allows the meat to retain a lot more of the smoke than normal, (2) it renders out the the fat itself while keeping the flavor of the fat, (3) it makes the edges of the meat crisp, hence the name, and (4) it leaves the meat as tender as butter without falling apart.
I was very impressed with this dish, which is one of four items on a new specials menu (though Pete himself told me that after all of the positive reports, it's on the menu for good). The preparation is similar to the burnt ends at RUB in New York City. The presentation goes a step further, placing a huge pile of the burnt ends into a crispy taco shell, with two fried pickles, three slices each of tomato and pickled jalapeño, and a choice of two sides for $16.95. Although I wouldn't dream of hoisting the entire taco to take a bite, the burnt ends were a perfect mate to broken pieces of the taco. I know I'll be back for more, and soon.
Other items on Uncle Pete's new specials menu include a beef or chicken taco served with several accompaniments ($4.95), a half duckling topped with Grand Marnier orange sauce and served with two sides ($16.95), and a NY strip sirloin steak topped with mushroom or Bearnaise sauce and served with two sides ($15.95).
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